Thursday, January 28, 2010
But it just keeps getting better and better. I will admit that I am totally intrigued by this new gadget ... but really, doesn't Apple have any women on its design and marketing teams?
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
(edited to add: read the rest of this essay after the jump by clicking "read more" below)
Thursday, January 21, 2010
When I was in college, it took me almost three years to hold onto the concept of “hegemony,” which now seems silly, because it’s not really a difficult concept. And it wasn’t that I didn’t understand the concept; at any given moment, if I looked it up, or someone explained it to me, I understood it perfectly. But an hour later, it was gone. I just couldn’t hold onto it, and I certainly couldn’t pull it up at will to use it or explain it. I had at best an impressionistic understanding, one that only occasionally came into focus. “Hermeneutics” is another one; I still have no idea what it means. And it won’t help for you to leave an explanation in the comments, because then I will understand it … but only until I turn off my computer. Then it will be gone.
Big theological concepts often feel a bit like that for me. But if I feel a little dumb when I can’t hold onto concepts like “hegemony” or “hermeneutics,” I feel like a downright fraud for having only a tangential grasp on concepts like “grace” and “redemption” and “resurrection.” This is one of the many reasons I love Kathleen Norris’s Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith. I come back to these lovely essays about the “scary words” of the Christian faith over and over, not so much to set difficult ideas firmly in my mind, but rather precisely because what Norris gives me is permission to claim them even in the fleeting, “hope is a thing with feathers” sort of way they dwell with me.
Mostly I don’t so much understand big theological concepts as I experience them. And the thing is, whether you understand it or not, sometimes grace can just wash over you. Sometimes redemption can grab hold of you in an instant and deliver you from a captivity you didn’t even know you were dwelling in. Sometimes resurrection looks you right in the eye in the form of a teen-age boy, now a grown man, who revisits you across the decades through the magic of social networking.
Last night I got a Facebook friend request from Neville Stephens (that’s not really his last name, btw), a name that rang a bell, but which I couldn’t immediately place. Julie said, “Didn’t you have a student named Neville Stephens?” Right. Our mutual friends were two other former students, so of course I immediately accepted.
I’m now Facebook friends with several of my former students from my brief foray as a high school English teacher in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s in Hancock County, Indiana. First was Radley; I found him at the Cato Institute when I was doing background on a potential donor to my kids’ school. I shot him an email; awhile later he wrote back, apologetic about the delay. I was actually in Indiana when I received his email, in a Holiday Inn Express, at Julie’s Nanna’s funeral. I was just miles away from Eastern Hancock High School, and his kind words about my influence on his intellectual life were most certainly a sort of grace, a totally unexpected affirmation from the least likely of sources. I’ve been a huge fan of Radley’s ever since, and will always be grateful for his thoughtfulness that began to redeem what was mostly a painful and difficult time in my life. I may have been miserable, but apparently it was not all for naught.
But miserable I was, for so many reasons. In no particular order, there was the fact that my introverted, anxiety-prone, bookish self was exquisitely ill-suited to a career teaching adolescents; there was the war, about which I held a distinctly minority opinion among my colleagues; there was my mother’s death at the end of my first year, the great trauma in my life, still; and then there was that toxic closet, which permeated everything. All around a bad combination. When I look back on those three years, my misery seems almost unremitting.
So I was happy to hear from Radley that something good had come of all that misery. And when I became Facebook friends with Shawn and Amy and Webb and Todd, I had a similar experience. “Miss Rose! [“Marta” I have to correct them every time] It’s so nice to be in touch! Thank you so much for trying to open our minds there at Eastern Hancock, you really did make a difference!” Nothing begins to redeem misery like this sort of unexpected and undeserved kindness and generosity. Especially since not one of them seems particularly freaked out by my life (not my lifestyle, Todd … it’s just a life, and so is yours! Though yours probably has more style, come to think of it… ;-)
Then a couple of weeks ago, I was chatting on Facebook with my boy Cory, whom I sit with at church, while Julie is conducting the choir (Michael, my friend and pastor, says new folks probably think we’re married, ha!). He’s a new friend, and very dear, a Hoosier no less. I adore him. While we were chatting, he told me that Autumn, one of his childhood chums with whom he is Facebook friends, recognized my name on his page because she had also seen it on Amy’s page.
“Autumn?” It took me a minute. “As in Asha’s older sister? Really, you knew Asha?” What a small world, huh? Asha isn’t on Facebook, but I immediately chatted up Amy and caught up on Asha’s life.
Redemption all over the place. I may have been miserable, but these kids? Well, they’re not kids any more, for starters, and what’s more, they appear to have grown up to be fabulous human beings. Very rewarding and heartwarming, let me tell you.
So I was happy to get Neville’s friend request, in much the same way I was happy to hear from all of them. Neville was a great kid. They were all great kids. His photo, though, it didn’t look all that familiar. People change, as it turns out, quite a bit between their mid-teens and their mid-thirties. Someone else commenting on his wall thought so too: “Neville, what happened to your long hair?”
And then it all came back to me: resurrection, redemption, grace, all in one fell swoop. Because suddenly I really remembered Neville. I really saw him, his fifteen-year-old self, with his long blond hair and the fabulous smile and a certain open-yet-shy sort of head-ducking, looking-out-from-under-his-eye-lids gesture that was so, well, Neville. Like his young self was standing right there in front of me.
Michael recently preached a beautiful sermon about bodies (one of my favorite topics) and resurrection, which threw me for a bit of a loop at the end, because he proposed that resurrection is not really a metaphor, that our resurrections will be bodily and unique, right down to the expressions on our faces and our quirky personalities and the very gestures that make us unique. I loved this sermon right up until that point, when I fell right into fretting about being a fraud. Because resurrection as not-a-metaphor and not-a-symbol is not-so-much something I can easily wrap my mind around. A couple of days after that sermon, I made Michael go for a walk with me and quizzed him about it. We walked around the block in the sunshine, my first limping excursion of any distance since my last bout with plantar facsiitis. I was in a funk, and a walk in the sunshine and my new fancy running shoes with my pal Michael was certainly a resurrection of sorts. His further explanation of his sermon was helpful, too, but still I was left mostly scratching my head.
I still don’t really understand the end of Michael’s sermon, but this morning, when a flood of Nevilleness washed over me, I certainly experienced resurrection in just the way Michael proposed: specific, quirky, bodily, right down to the very gestures and expressions that make Neville himself. I have experienced this before: fifteen-year-old Radley is pretty easy to recall too, but here’s the thing (and I trust that Radley would take no offense): there’s not so much redemption or grace in recalling a fifteen-year-old Radley in all his smirky particularity. The redemption of Radley is in knowing he turned out to be a fine human being, a good man, someone who does important work in the world.
The difference was that my experience of Neville, resurrected, recalled for me that my time at Eastern Hancock was not all misery. Neville appears to have turned out to be a fine human being, like most of my former students I’m sure, one that I will be happy to know and be friends with, on Facebook and perhaps even in real life. But the gift that has redeemed those years like no other is in recalling – so specifically, so particularly, so vividly – how much I adored him, then, and how happy it made me, then, to know him.
In the two pages Kathleen Norris devotes to “Grace” in Amazing Grace, she recalls the story of Jacob, who, as Norris tells us, “has just deceived his father and cheated his brother out of an inheritance. But,” says Norris, “God’s response to finding Jacob vulnerable, sleeping all alone in open country, is not to strike him down for his sins but to give him a blessing.” Upon waking from his dream, Jacob responds, “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!” Grace, suggests Norris, is in realizing that God is with us even when we don’t know it. “Even when we try to run away from our troubles, as Jacob did, God will find us and bless us….” (pp. 150-151)
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Monday, January 11, 2010
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
The first time I ever fasted, I was a freshman at Earlham College. I was taking a course called Intro to Philosophy: Food Ethics, a course that changed my life in many good ways. My study group – a bunch of hippies interested in sustainable agriculture way before being interested in sustainable agriculture was trendy --- decided to try a one-day fast in solidarity with hungry people around the world. We didn’t really have any idea what we were doing – we had no sense of fasting as a spiritual discipline or even as political action. We were just earnest and angry, all at the same time, and thought somehow that fasting for a day made sense. I think we imagined, naively, that fasting would give us some feel for what it is like to be hungry. We fasted for one full day -- breakfast, lunch and dinner -- all the way to breakfast the next morning. By then we were utterly clear that we had no idea whatsoever what it is like to be hungry. We had spent almost the entire day obsessed with food and talking about how good breakfast was going to taste. We were earnest, but we weren’t dumb: it wasn’t even lunchtime of our fast day before we realized that people who are truly hungry don’t get to break their fast at the college cafeteria after just a day. We even thought about giving the fast up, but the only thing that seemed more absurd and privileged than thinking we would know something of hunger after a day of fasting was giving up the fast before even a day had passed. So we kept our fast, absurd as it was. But for many years, I spurned all thought of fasting as silly and naïve.
After my conversion to Christianity, I became interested in fasting as a spiritual discipline, rather than as an act of solidarity. One year during Lent, I made a discipline of fasting one day a week, but usually only from dinner to dinner, skipping just breakfast and lunch. For much of my fasting during that Lent, I probably couldn’t have articulated very clearly why I was fasting, or what it meant to me; certainly now, years later, I am even less able. But I recall that then, as now, prayer was difficult for me; I often felt empty and shallow when I tried to pray with any discipline. Yet I imagined somehow that my fasting was a sort of prayer, and that was comforting. That hungry feeling that made me yearn to be filled, that heightening of my senses, that in-the-moment awareness my hunger gave me – I imagined that true prayer might be something like that. It was a good fast that Lent, even if I didn’t completely understand why.
I’ve been thinking today a lot about Jean Montrevil, a man I don’t even know, a man I had never even heard of before a couple of days ago. I am moved deeply by his plight, and by his hunger strike. But I know his is the plight of so many families who have been torn apart by draconian immigration policies in this country. And I know that the movement to change such policies is just one cause among so many -- too many -- in the world crying out for action and justice. And yet I am feeling called to fast in solidarity with Jean Montrevil. Not a hunger strike, of course, but perhaps one meal a day until he is free.
Before you even say it, I know: This is absurd. Impulsive. Trendy maybe. And unlike when I was earnest and eighteen years old, I have no thought that missing one meal a day would in any way change Jean Montrevil’s situation, or even help me to understand what it might feel like to be separated from my family and faced with deportation for no good reason at all. That is all beyond my imagination, and would be far from the point of a fast in solidarity with his hunger strike.
But I have come to believe that prayer makes a difference, even though, like my first spiritual fast during Lent, I can’t really explain how or why. Still, I feel called to pray … yet most often, painfully unable to do so. Perhaps fasting is the prayer I can offer now.
But why Jean Montrevil? Why fast with and for him, when there are so many other people, so many other causes? No good reason, I guess. Jean Montrevil happens to be the man I am thinking about now, and trying to pray for. He could very easily serve as a proxy for so many others who need and deserve our prayers, but who will forever remain nameless and faceless. I doubt he would mind.
So here is my prayer, for Jean, and for his family, and for all immigrants facing the threat or the reality of families torn apart: in solidarity with him and with them, I will fast one meal each day until Jean Montrevil is released from detention and reunited with his family.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Upon a hill, wind-swept and bitter cold,
in milky light of bleak mid-winter’s sun,
we buried Auntie in the frozen wold,
in sure and certain hope, Thy will be done.
Small fingers twined, enfolded in small hands
Is this the church? Is this the steeple tall?
Is this the Shepherd on the hill who stands
with rod and staff to comfort people, all?
At Varrick Street and Houston, down they lay.
No pastures green, just biting wind, pale sun.
Forgive us, Father, of our debts, we pray.
For Brother Montrevil, Thy will be done.
A table set before my enemy;
In paths of righteousness you leadeth me.
Monday, January 4, 2010
For so many of my friends, 2009 was just a terrible, terrible year. I know all-too-well how eager they are to cast it off and move forward into better days. Two thousand and eight was that year for me – the year that still makes me shudder to think of it. A year ago I was carefully and deliberately pulling myself out of a pretty fragile state, and while I felt tentative, I also felt hopeful, and ever so grateful, as one does on the upswing after depression. And as it turned out, 2009 was one of my best years in memory. It really was just bathed in sunlight and lived with arms wide-open. I pray for exactly that sort of year-to-come for all of my dear ones who have suffered so much in 2009.
And I would ask for you to keep me in your prayers as well. It feels so much more foolish and vulnerable to bare one’s soul on a public blog when one’s skin is feeling a bit thin and one’s soul is feeling a bit punky, but it also seems the only honest thing to do, doesn’t it? And the truth is that exactly a year after I started climbing out of the depression of 2008, I fear I’m crossing paths with myself on a downswing, tentative again, but this time with a blush of dread and foreboding. I promised myself a year ago that I would never let myself crash as hard as I did in the spring and again in the fall of 2008. Check in with me again in a couple of weeks, will you? Nobody I love can afford to have me fall that far off the deep end of depression and anxiety again. So I’m going to focus on taking care of myself in the next few weeks, and see how it goes. If I still feel this punky, I will seek some help. Promise.
In the meantime, I think part of my despond has been precipitated in the past week by the serious, painful, debilitating return of plantar fasciitis. Our trip to Ohio and a death in the family (Julie’s Auntie – I will write more about that soon) have made it difficult to do some things I know will help – get a really good new pair of shoes, get orthotic inserts, get a foot brace for sleeping, get to yoga, and stay off my feet for awhile. Auntie’s funeral is tomorrow; the new washing machine comes Wednesday; Thursday I’m off to the Bryn Mawr Running Company (and how much do I love the young man at Dick’s Sporting Goods who advised me this afternoon that no, the top-of-the-line shoe Dick’s carries is not as good as the even-more top-shelf shoe recommended by the American Academy of Podiatrists, where my research earlier in the day had landed me. This lovely young man urged me, in the interests of my foot-health – and, little did he know, my mental health – to pay a visit to the real running professionals at the Bryn Mawr Running Company. Which I am going to do on Thursday.) So, I’m not entirely without hope, but I’m pretty despondent. Running, especially running outside in the sunshine and fresh air, especially in the winter, is pretty much my first and best mental-health maintenance strategy. In the meantime I’m going to join a gym for a couple of months, but it’s just not the same. Sigh. Getting back to yoga will most certainly help, as will my plan to add in Pilates once a week. Still, this pain in my heel is a big old pain in the ass.
I’m also pretty sure that my funk is largely hormonal. Which doesn’t make it any less real, at least as I experience it, but it does make it feel a little less like something that is entirely in my control to pull myself out of by sheer force of will. I’m not surprised that menopause is calling me so early – my ovaries acted like forty-year-olds when I was trying to get pregnant in my mid-thirties, and they are acting like fifty-year-olds now that I’m in my mid-forties. There’s much that I love about this menopausal time of life, actually – in many ways it is powerful and passionate and liberating … and something I should write more about, now that I think about it. (Who is writing about menopause in the blogosphere these days? I would love to know….) But I’m pretty sure nature did not intend for the mother of a highly sensitive and energetic six-year-old boy to be shepherding her son’s early childhood while her brain is awash in the hormones of menopause. So I’m going to see my doctor soon in the hopes that she can help me figure out how to manage my wildly irregular and intense menstrual cycles these days. At the very least, I’m hoping she can tell me it’s all relatively normal (hypochondria runs in my family, and it’s pretty easy for me to convince myself that Something Is Terribly Wrong).
In the meantime, I’m cooking a lot – a sort of kitchen-therapy that feels calm and contemplative and satisfying on so many levels. I’m loving my Christmas copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, though if I can’t start running soon, I may have to consider cutting back on my butter intake. But cooking feels like the best way I can take care of my family these days, something I don’t always feel entirely up to when I’m in a funk. Tonight, on the eve of Auntie’s funeral – a sad and stressful time for Julie and all of us – Micah and I designed a menu of macaroni and cheese made with sauce béchamel, artichokes in white butter sauce, mussels steamed in white wine and shallots (and butter), baguette from Baker Street Bakery, and left-over apple tart that I made yesterday (I was even late to church waiting for it to bake, gasp! You know that’s devotion to my new French tart obsession – though I did make sure to get there for the sermon, which would have been a terrible shame to miss – Michael’s a little on fire these days).
And now that I have cried on your collective internet shoulders (and having done so, feel much better, thank you!), I’d better limp my sorry butt to the kitchen and clean up the Awesome Mess that a tornado of French cooking can leave in its wake. I’m writing on Wednesday while I wait for the washing machine delivery (we’ve been without for several weeks), so more soon, I hope.
PS I made Julie read this before posting, to make sure it wasn’t too embarrassingly confessional and attention-seeking. She looked at me with a quizzical expression and asked, “It’s a blog. Isn’t that what a blog is? Confessional and attention-seeking?” The fact that I laughed out loud rather than stomping off to pout – and have posted my confessional attention-seeking blather nonetheless – all points to the fact that I am really fine. Really. In case you’re like me and a bit of a worrier. ;-)